In a moment of wild abandon last night I called my mom and asked her if Isla could join Gabe at her house so I could run out for about an hour. I had grand plans of a trip to the grocery store for yogurt and peanut butter cups, but as soon as my hands hit the wheel I knew I’d be diverting to the bookstore for a little mental health hiatus. Truthfully, I almost cried when I realized that a) I was free for a little bit and b) it was quiet, both exceedingly beautiful things.
It’s my favorite kind of evening, a fun drink and a stack of crisp reading material whose bindings crinkle and groan when I open them to explore their ideas. I could go to a bookstore nightly and come home with a newly discovered gem after every single trip. Granted, I’d never have time to finish reading them all once I got them home, but I love books and I love reading other people’s opinions and conclusions and don’t think I’ll ever tire of these treasure hunting excursions.
“Wednesdays were pretty normal,” writes Michael Kelley, looking for a bright spot amidst the chemotherapy routine brought on by his two-year-old son Joshua’s cancer diagnosis. His book of the same name offers much to anyone who’s tired of prescriptive spirituality and would rather acknowledge and work through the difficulties of faith with some transparency.
About the time I got pregnant with Mara I decided to start reading through the Bible. And then we lost her and I stopped, only to pick it up again about the same time I got pregnant with Isla. I plodded through as much of the Pentateuch as I could, getting more and more anxious about my pregnancy while I got more and more overwhelmed with a God who, in those first books of the Bible, looked so angry, cruel and unfair.
And I got stuck – partly because I couldn’t reconcile the picture of the Old Testament God with the New Testament God and partly because my anxiety was so deep and I begged Him for help and relief and never found any. I had so many questions bubbling just beneath the surface but couldn’t find a way to ask them without toppling head-first into a sea of nebulous, inky doubt.
I’m better now – not “Better,” but getting better – and I’m still hung up on some of those questions.
Why did He order the destruction of entire nations? Surely there were individuals in those nations who would have longed for a relationship with the One True God!
Why did Mara have to die?
Why was He consumingly angry at other nations for behavior that He forgave in the Israelites?
Why was He not forthcoming with the peace He promises to bring?
What sense did it make for Him to make the Israelites his favorite? Why did anyone have to be the favorite?
Does the little picture really matter to Him as much as we think it matters?
I’ve rolled these questions up and down through my mind so much that I’ve grown guilty at my insistence over them. There are lots of pat answers out there; churches are rife with them. I’m sick of them. They’re annoying – sometimes true, but thoroughly annoying. Somewhere along the way I bought into the idea that God must be sick of my insistence, must be frustrated with my lack of “getting it.” I “should” have been thinking…
He is God. I’m not.
He knows what He’s doing.
This suffering is for a reason.
He’s fair even when I don’t understand it.
I just need to trust.
But I wasn’t. I was just desperate to make it through another day intact and not crazy, hoping to stumble onto the magical ability to trust without anxiety since that’s what good Christians do.
As Mr. Kelley describes his experience in the early days of his son’s cancer diagnosis, he writes about longing to embrace the truth of Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God. It’s a verse that feels like part-command, part-promise, and I fully related when he said, “Now that’s a great verse. In the chaos of blood tests and diagnoses, we would have loved nothing more than just to be quiet. Not just verbally, but in our minds and hearts, too – to calm down and just trust.
I related so much I took a picture of it, not just because I liked his description, but because of how he ends the paragraph. ”Unfortunately, we couldn’t. But then again, neither could the psalmist.”
Neither could the psalmist.
When I read that my mind jumped to David. Upon further investigation I learned that the psalmist in question was probably Isaiah, not David, but I don’t think it really matters because David lamented in the same style throughout much of the remainder of the book of Psalms, full of repeated anxieties and heartaches. How many times did He call out to God in pain? How many times did his cry out in fear while his enemies chased him and sought his destruction? How many times did he angrily ask God why he’d been forgotten or abandoned?
The other thing I know about David is that God Himself calls David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 16:22). David, with his anxious/angry/bitter/fearful self, was not rejected by God for his internal struggles. David wasn’t the picture of calm stillness. He wasn’t glibly humming “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” while he ran for his life to hide from Saul.
David was anxious. David was scared. AND David was a man after God’s own heart.
Occasionally I hear really clear things from God – or at least I think I do – and I’m pretty sure this has been one of those times. ”You are not bad because you’re anxious,” He tells me. ”I can deal with anxious.”
And on the issue of the Old Testament, He tells me to keep going. Don’t judge a book by the first installment.
I get frustrated when I realize how perverted my heart’s understanding of Christianity has become. Partly it’s me and things get muddled up while they rattle around inside my brain. But partly it’s the teachings of church and the way Christians put emphasis on right words rather than real hearts. When did being a Christian become so complex and polished? I think it’s really pretty simple, gritty and raw.
I’m stalled out again somewhere around the beginning on Deuteronomy, and a good friend suggested I jump ahead and do a little bit of New Testament stuff to break things up. I might do that. I might pick up Wednesday Were Pretty Normal so I can see how the story ends, too. I’m glad I found it, and I’m glad I was reminded that the Bible’s full of anxious, crazy-imperfect people who were deeply loved and thoroughly delighted in by God.